Two weeks in Crete on a last-minute deal: from Chania and Rethymon to Iraklio, Chersonisos and Siteia, we packed it all in those 14 days!
Day 4 : 16 July 2003 : In Iraklio
This morning we caught the bus. No messing about this time - Eleanora told us exactly where it picked up and we were ready and waiting for it. The Drive to Crete's capital Iraklio took just under an hour, and all the way I was spotting posters advertising Saturday's party that Phil would be DJ-ing at. This was like a taunt for me, as I had realised that however much I'd like to go to it, it simply wasn't going to happen - we were due to do the Samaria Gorge walk the day after (16.5km in the Cretan sun) and it involved a 4:20 am wake-up for a 5:05 pick-up. Given that the party would not start until 10pm the night before I decided that I'd have to give it a miss, otherwise we'd never wake up in time. But still the posters taunted me ...
Our first stop in Iraklio was the Venetian Fortress (OK, the first stop was the bus station, if you want to get pedantic). The Venetian Fortress sits in the harbour and is one of the most well known images of Crete.
We didn't get to go inside the fortress, only walk around it and past it. Like most structures of this size it's better viewed from a distance and in context; up close it's just a collection of oversized bricks and crumbling mortar. It's definitely an impressive structure and really gives the whole harbour a feeling of having a long and interesting history.
The walk in to the centre of town didn't take long - at most 15 minutes - but it was uphill and it was hot. Strangely, there were very few touristy shops along the main road in, but hey, we'd done that one to death already. We were becoming experts!
The first site to see on the tourist map as you walk in along the main street from the harbour is the Church of St Titus. It kind of creeps up on you, even if you have a map with it marked on. It cannot be seen from a distance, instead you first notice a break in the street opening out into a large courtyard and the building sits at the far end. The courtyard was empty in the midday sun as everyone took cover in what little shade was offered by the trees around the periphery.
As with all churches in Greece, visitors are asked not to go in wearing shorts. There's a clear sign on the door that demonstrates exactly this in 'infographic' format, yet people either didn't see it or didn't care - it was difficult to spot people who weren't wearing shorts with the exception of locals who were kissing the portraits of various icons inside, crossing themselves as they did so. Perhaps they were also praying for the heretics to be removed from their place of worship.
Not far from the church is the old Ventian-built Town Hall (or Loggia) and the Morosini Fountain which, unfortunately, never has any water in it. The fountain is quite an attractive piece of sculpture but is somewhat lost in the general hubbub that surrounds it, mostly the numerous restaurants catering for the hungry tourists ... just like us.
We ate at the first place along the street, only because the proprietor got to us before others further down the street. They all do it - pounce on you as you stroll past: "Yes please, coca-cola, ice cream - sir, take a seat." Normally this has precisely the opposite effect, making us want to carry on walking until we find somewhere that we want to eat. But today we succumbed.
As I sat in the pavement-side restaurant, I realised that the sign above it had been put in incorrectly. My attention was drawn to it by the way that the letters didn't line up and then I noticed that the letter u was upside-down, making the sign read 'restanrant'. I thought to myself 'what a brilliant idea for a chain of restaurants'. You go along for a meal, for a bit of a rest and a bit of a rant (the rant is optional). Perhaps it could be a bit like Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, so when you have an issue you take your table and then when your moment comes, you take the mic at the centre of the table and let off some steam. After that you can go back to your food. An interesting concept. Or maybe I was just getting too hot.
Just down from the fountain is Iraklio's market (not to be confused with the gypsy market that happens by the harbour on Saturdays). We strolled up and down the length of the market; I bought an Athens 2004 bag while Manda browsed through the variety of purses on offer.
We left the market and walked up another main street to the town's main square, where we stopped once again for refreshments. The sun and the walking had taken its toll and I found myself drifting off at the table. Despite the heat, I could easily have slept right there, face down in an ashtray.
We were told by Eleanora that we could get a coach back to Iraklio that would drop us off at the same spot where we were picked up if we got the 4pm bus. When we got to the bus station, it seemed a little chaotic and as I asked for a ticket to Anissaras, I was a little doubtful whether I had been understood because:
Was this the right bus? Whatever ... the most pressing concern was now that the bus we found ourselves on was waiting for more passengers and the air conditioning had not yet been switched on. The blinking LED at the front informed us that it was 36 degrees inside, and we felt every single one of 'em.
Where are the tickets? They were here a minute ago. Make that a second ago. The tickets that I held in my hands only moments ago were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps I had put them in one of the many pockets of my Ripcurl bag. I then went looking through each and every pocket, then did it all again, then turfed out the contents of the main part of the bag, knowing full well that I couldn't have lost it in the depths of the bag when I hadn't opened it (or at least didn't remember opening!). A mad panic like this is never good, and this is ever more true when the bus you're sitting on is 36 degrees - and rising. I then noticed the tickets on the floor by the feet of the people sitting in front of us. I breathed a sigh of relief as they were handed back and immediately pulled out a portable fan.